July 23, 2014

First of all, I'll confess that I don't watch cable news for news anymore. I occasionally watch when there's a natural disaster or a breaking news story, but I don't really care what the people on my teevee think about anything. I don't trust them enough for that. But I saw that Rula Jebreal was scheduled to be on with Chris Hayes, and I wanted to hear more about her complaints about coverage of Israel's attacks on Gaza. After all, she's the only Palestinian voice they have.

What I didn't know was that MSNBC cancelled her contributors contract for her criticism. Max Blumenthal for Alternet:

Jebreal is the author of Miral, a memoir about her coming of age in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Her former partner, Jewish-American filmmaker and artist Julian Schnabel, adapted the book into full length film. A widely published journalist and former news presenter in Italy, Jebreal was a vocal supporter of the now-extinct peace process and a harsh critic of Islamist groups including Hamas. Her termination leaves NBC without any Palestinian contributors.

According to the NBC producer, MSNBC show teams were livid that they had been forced by management to cancel Jebreal as punishment for her act of dissent.

At the same time, social media erupted in protest of Jebreal’s cancellation, forcing the network into damage control mode. The role of clean-up man fell to Chris Hayes, the only MSNBC host with a reputation for attempting a balanced discussion of Israel-Palestine. On the July 22 episode of his show, All In, he brought Jebreal on to discuss her on-air protest.

In introducing Jebreal, Hayes took on the role of the industry and network defender: “Let me take you behind the curtain of cable news business for a moment,” Hayes told his viewers. “If you appear on a cable news network, you trash that network and one of its hosts by name, on any issue — Gaza, infrastructure spending, sports coverage, funny internet cat videos — the folks at the network will not take kindly to it.”

Say what? Was that Chris Hayes, the voice of moral reason, blowing off MSNBC's treatment of Jebreal as no big deal, par for the course?

In fact, MSNBC Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough has publicly attacked fellow MSNBC hosts and slammed the network for its support for the Democratic Party.

“I did not think that i was stepping in a hornet’s nest,” Jebreal told me. “I saw Joe Scarborough criticizing the network. I thought we were liberal enough to stand self criticism.”

Yet when she appeared across from Hayes, Jebreal encountered a defensive host shielding his employers from her criticism. “We’re actually doing a pretty good job” of covering the Israel-Palestine crisis, Hayes claimed to her. “I think our network, and I think the New York Times and the media all around, have been doing a much better job on this conflict.”

Well, see, this is one of the reasons why I don't get my news from cable teevee. Because (and I'm not going to blame Chris Hayes for wanting to keep his job, he's got a mortgage and a couple of kids) inevitably, the same people we see as reliable voices become Villagers. Maybe not as dyed-in-the-wool as Mrs. Greenspan or Dancin' Dave, but if they want to pay the bills, there's an electric fence they dare not cross.

This started in earnest when television news morphed from a public service to a profit center, and it ain't going back anytime soon. Problem is, a lot of us still remember the public service days.

Jebreal appeared on screen as a “Palestinian journalist” — her title as a MSNBC contributor had been removed. When she insisted that American broadcast media had not provided adequate context about the 8-year-long Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip or the roots of Palestinian violence, Hayes protested that he had wanted to host Hamas officials alongside the Israeli government spokespeople he routinely featured but that it was practically impossible.

“Not all Palestinians are Hamas,” Jebreal vehemently replied.

“Airtime always strikes me as a bad metric,” Hayes responded. “I mean there are interviews and then there are interviews. I had [Israeli government spokesman] Mark Regev on this program for 16 minutes, alright? That’s a very long interview but there was a lot to talk to him about.”

Oh dear. "On-the-other-hand"-ism at its finest. Chris will do his best to keep his job, and good luck to him. But I think cable news is dying and doesn't even know it yet:

The NBC producer remarked to me that the network’s public relations strategy had backfired. Hayes’ performance was poorly received on social media while Jebreal appeared as another maverick journalist outcasted by corporate media for delivering uncomfortable truths.

This is why I'm glued to my Twitter feed, folks. Real stories, in real time. Cable teevee can't hold a candle to it. That's why Israel is doing so poorly in the court of world opinion right now: It's hard to hold the line on propaganda when the Twitter stream and Facebook pages blow up with pictures of dead Palestinian babies and videos of ordinary citizens shot down by Israel snipers. The Powers That Be don't control the story line anymore.

That's real media. That's real power.

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